Omega-3 fatty acids are also called n-3 fatty acids, along with Ï‰âˆ’3 fatty acids. They are a family of unsaturated fatty acids that have in common a final carbon-carbon double bond in the nâˆ’3 position; that is, the third bond from the methyl end of the fatty acid.
The intake of omega-3 fatty acids, as found in some fish, has been found to reduce the incidences of cancer and cardiovascular disease, and increase the function of the immune system and the brain.
Omega-3 fatty acids are found naturally in fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies and sardines. They are also found in such foods as flaxseed, walnuts, and pecans.
The authors of the study are Sara R. Zwart (Universities Space Research Association, Houston, Texas); Duane Pierson (Habitability and Environmental Factors Division at the NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas); Satish Mehta (Enterprise Advisory Services, Houston, Texas); and Steve Gonda and Scott M. Smith (both from the Human Adaptation and Countermeasures Division at the NASA Johnson Space Center).
The NASA-sponsored study involves research involving cell cultures, ground-based bed rest, data from members of the International Space Station, and data from members of the Space Shuttle program.
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Going along with problems caused within astronauts during long missions into space, the study also hoped to find ways to counter the damaging effects of bone loss and muscle atrophy here on Earth for the benefit of the billions of people living on our planet.
The researchers studied astronauts returning from mission on the space shuttle, trips that normally extend to less then two weeks (14 days) in space. They also studied members of the International Space Station after their extended missions to space, which often last many months.
They also studied 16 people who remained in bed for 60 days while on Earth, what was called a ground-based bed rest study.
The researchers found that substances that increase in blood cells (and can lead to bone loss) were in higher levels in these astronauts (after returning from space) than is normally found on people living on Earth.
They also found that the subjects lying in bed for two months had less bone loss when they ate more omega-3 fatty acids than other subjects.
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For astronauts onboard the International Space Station, where missions last for several months, the research ''¦ evaluated bone loss in astronauts and compared their findings to reported fish intake during spaceflight. Researchers found that astronauts who ate more fish lost less bone mineral after four-to-six-month spaceflights. Tracking fish consumption is not as accurate as determining exact diet and omega-3 fatty acid intake, but these data were not available.'
Scott Smith, a nutritionist at the Johnson Space Center, stated, 'These results are very exciting, and provide initial evidence that nutrition may be a key factor in mitigating bone loss in astronauts.' [NASA]
Their journal article 'Capacity of omega-3 fatty acids or eicosapentaenoic acid to counteract weightlessness-induced bone loss by inhibiting NF- B activation: From cells to bed rest to astronauts' (doi: 10.1359/jbmr.091041) appears in the May issue of the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research.